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Scandalous shipping industry conditions exposed

23 August 2012

Scandalous shipping

It is a global Mariner
And he stoppeth one of three

An updated version of Coleridge's classic The Rime of the Ancient Mariner reveals poor training, undercrewing, long hours and fatigue in the modern international shipping industry.

The Rime of the Globalised Mariner is the creation of Professor Michael Bloor of the Seafarers International Research Centre, after a career studying the maritime workforce. Professor Bloor has travelled to the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, India, Turkey and many other nations, interviewing seafarers, inspectors and ship operators, and even spending a month aboard a super-tanker. He has now taken the unusual step of publishing his research as a poem, hoping it will raise public awareness of the appalling conditions mariners face.

In Professor Bloor's poem, the original Ancient Mariner is replaced by the Globalised Mariner, a Filipino forced into seafaring by his family's poverty. The Mariner explains to a Consumer, replacing Coleridge's Wedding Guest, exactly how goods are shipped to his local shopping mall.

The Mariner tells how his family paid for his place at a maritime training college with no equipment or time spent at sea. Unscrupulous crewing agents and local politicians all take a cut of the training scam:

They issued my certificates,But their paper had a price:My father's hard-earned moneyStolen once, then twice

The Mariner then goes on to explain why so many ships sail under infamous "flags of convenience" with lax compliance standards. His last ship was registered in Mongolia  - even though the country is 850 miles from the sea. A despairing shipping Inspector, who has joined the conversation, adds:

The flag with the greatest tonnageFlies o'er the Panama Isthmus,When Panama votes for change,Then turkeys'll vote for Christmas

The Mariner tells of the reduced crews and long hours on board. Quite often the master and first officer are the only ones on watch, each doing twelve hours a day. We also hear from a Chorus of Greek ship operators, who claim they are only responding to cut-throat competition.

Pay for training? Better wages??Remember shipping's quite anarchic:We'd love to be more generousBut you cannot buck the market

The poem has just published in the academic journal Sociology. Professor Bloor explained: "The shipping industry employs around one million people worldwide but they are very much a forgotten group. Poor training, poor safety performance and long hours put them at serious risk at sea. I've been raising these issues in traditional academic articles for years and I've been frustrated by the lack of change. I'm hoping to have more effect by making these points in poetry rather than sociological prose."

The poem ends with a rallying call to consumers to put more pressure on ship operators to improve labour standards.

So come all you kind consumers,Who the honey'd wine have sipped,Take pity on the marinerBeware how your goods are shipped.

Professor Bloor said: "Public pressure has already improved standards on shipping's environmental side, particularly in the oil industry. Consumers now need to pressure charterers to push ship operators for better pay, higher manning levels and shorter hours for crews. This issue potentially affects many more people – the shipping industry was one of the first to globalise and other industries and employers may well go down the same path."

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